Nationality and Borders Bill: Bishop of Bristol supports amendments on modern slavery

On 10th February 2022, the House of Lords debated the Nationality and Borders Bill in the 5th day of Committee. The Bishop of Bristol spoke in favour of two amendments:

  • An amendment to remove Clause 57 of the bill. Clause 57 would establish a deadline for potential victims of modern slavery to disclose that information, and would penalise late disclosure.
  • An amendment to remove clause 62 from the bill. Clause 62 “excludes from the national referral mechanism persons who have committed criminal offences as well as other offences relating to terrorism [and those who] claimed to be victims of terrorism in bad faith.” Hansard

The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, I have added my name to those noble Lords who oppose Clause 57 standing part. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and others, who have already so eloquently made the case about concerns for this part of the Bill. As the Church of England’s lead bishop for modern slavery, I have had the privilege to sit with and listen to many charities, agencies and survivors of modern slavery, so it seemed appropriate to bring those conversations from the grass roots to your Lordships’ attention.

This is a clause which resonates deeply with the Church. Through the Clewer initiative, the Church of England is working across England with many partners to raise awareness of all aspects of modern slavery and to help support victims and vulnerable groups. This includes running training courses on county lines, producing apps which allow for reporting of suspected modern slavery cases in car washes and the farming sector, and working with many churches to raise up and equip volunteers in this area.

Only yesterday, around the corner from here, the General Synod of the Church of England discussed a motion on modern slavery and trafficking brought forward by members of the diocese of Durham and supported by members of the diocese of Southwark. This was prompted by the practical experience and difficulty in supporting a victim who had come to their attention. The synod voted to acknowledge the leading role which Her Majesty’s Government have played internationally in challenging slavery. Voting unanimously, the synod asked Her Majesty’s Government to introduce legislation to ensure proper provision for the ongoing support and protection of trafficked minors, and for this to be enshrined in law.

As a Church, and like many faith groups—I pay tribute, as others have, to the Salvation Army and the Medaille Trust—we wholeheartedly welcomed the Modern Slavery Act 2015. It has been such a crucial piece of legislation, and one we have long harboured hopes of seeing expanded and enhanced to do more to protect victims, to prevent future cases and to work with businesses and civil society in a collective effort against this appalling evil. Accordingly, it is so disheartening to see Clause 57—and others to which we will come to in due course—in this Bill. From so many charities and faith-based initiatives, and from survivors themselves, I have heard a torrent of the same message: “This is not going to work. It is going to exclude legitimate victims. It will result in fewer people being identified. It will result in fewer people being supported.”

The numbers who remain trapped and incapable of receiving the support that they need outstrip by an enormous margin the relatively small numbers seeking to abuse the system. Clause 57 seeks to eliminate abuse. I humbly suggest that we have a system in place that is already able to identify and refuse support to those who are not truly eligible. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, alluded to this. What Clause 57 will do, in order to cut down on a relatively small level of abuse, is add to the barriers that are put before victims.

I want to end by emphasising that point. Those who work on the ground are desperate to do more to work with the Government to identify victims and eliminate modern slavery. This is the time to be accelerating and increasing our engagement to break the business models that exploit and enslave human beings. It is not the time to be making it harder for victims to come forward. I hope that we can rethink and remove this clause.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and I go back a long way. She was once a curate in what was then the Liverpool Mossley Hill constituency, so, we also have something in common with the Minister. Bristol and Liverpool have something in common: their knowledge of the transatlantic slave trade. In 2015, we saw this as a way of cleansing some of the past: not breaking down monuments or trying to cancel history but doing something positive. My worry is that what we are doing now is undoing so much of that good work. What are these imaginary windmills that, like Don Quixote, we are being encouraged to tilt at today? There is no data. Where is the justification? Knowing that the Minister has a forensic brain, I hope he will take us through what the justifications are for what we have here. Why, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said, are we disregarding what our own Joint Committee on Human Rights has said to us?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con): We have heard a number of arguments for removing Clauses 57 and 58 from the Bill. I will deal with those first, because I think that is really the head-on charge that has been put to me. I suggest that these clauses are important provisions to encourage disclosure of information at the earliest stage so we can identify victims and provide them with direct support as early as possible. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, moving the amendment, asked why the provisions were necessary and quoted the former Prime Minister asking why artificial deadlines were required. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol suggested that the clauses would stop people coming forward. Far from deterring victims, these clauses are intended to encourage genuine victims to come forward and get protection and support on the earliest possible occasion.


Coming back to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, all child potential victims of modern slavery in England and Wales will be provided with an independent child trafficking guardian to support them in navigating the immigration and national referral mechanism systems. Decision-makers are obviously trained in making those decisions, and the particular needs of children are an important part of that. In fact, I hope what I have just said responds also to some of the points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: The reality of Clause 59 is that raising the threshold—from “reasonable grounds” to believe that someone maybe a victim of modern slavery, to “is” such a victim—could lead to the national referral mechanism failing to identify victims of modern slavery, effectively shutting them out of the support that they so desperately need. That was picked up yesterday in our General Synod debate across the road, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol has already alluded.

The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, I have added my name to those of noble Lords who oppose Clause 62 standing part of the Bill. I echo remarks made by noble colleagues.

As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, just said, Clause 62 goes to an essential point of principle in the entire operation of how modern slavery protections ought to work. The proposal is that Clause 62 makes victimhood a conditional state. In fact, it sets up a division between worthy and unworthy victims, as the noble Baroness commented. This would be such a retrograde step. If we are serious about destroying the business model of modern slavery and identifying and prosecuting as many slavers as we can, we must find ways of incentivising and supporting all victims to come forwards. By excluding from support those who have acted in bad faith—a term for which I greatly welcome more clarity from the Minister on what it would mean—or those deemed a threat to public order, we are creating two categories of victim.

Over the road in the General Synod of the Church of England debate yesterday, there was a plea not to be naive. As was said, traffickers and modern slavers are not stupid. They know how to use criminal exploitation to trap people into criminal activity, to scare them into not approaching the police. We know this from work on the ground. When speaking to support charities and victims in my role as lead bishop on modern slavery, I have heard often that one of the most effective ways to keep victims in fear is to force them to commit crimes so that they will be criminalised if they come forward to the authorities.

Life for legislators—indeed, for everyone—would be much easier if there were nice, clear binaries: blameless victims and evil enslavers. The reality, as anyone who has worked on the ground with those trafficked through county lines and many other forms of criminal exploitation can attest, is that things are not that easy. People who have done bad things can and often do become victims of slavery. People who have become victims of slavery find themselves compelled to do bad things.

In opposing Clause 62, I am not suggesting that people should not be held responsible for their actions. They should, but as a society we have responsibilities too and one of those is to break the way in which modern slavers operate. Creating a two-tier system of victimhood will, I fear, strengthen it.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con, Advocate-General for Scotland): Finally, referring to Amendment 164A, I reassure the Committee that the Government are committed to identifying possible victims promptly and providing needs-based support that we hope will aid their recovery. This clause is in line with ECAT, and as such we consider that the requirement to make a conclusive grounds decision can fall away in the event of disqualification on grounds of public order or improper claims.

We will set out the detail of matters in guidance, but again I assure the Committee that trained decision-makers will consider carefully the full circumstances of each individual case, consulting with relevant stakeholders and considering all the relevant information, including weighing national security considerations against whether any potential interference with protected rights is proportionate.

I omitted to recognise the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol’s contribution to the matter of “bad faith”. I hope that she will forgive that omission.

I hope, for the reasons outlined, that noble Lords will be content not to press their amendments at this stage.

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